“In Dreams Begins Responsibility”[i]
For the second day of our retreat, we move from discernment to hopes and dreams. We will come to more practical matters later, but for now let us open ourselves to visions of the future. Whether one is hoping to lead a community or just oneself to somewhere new, a vision of the hoped for destination is necessary. Ideally this vision should be of a place not quite like anything one has experienced before but still vivid enough to pull us toward it.
I invite you to clear your mind of distractions and of all the tasks and anxieties that are calling to you. Take some deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Close your eyes and try to feel some kind of calm.
Now, I invite you to read a few short passages about different experiences relating to this topic of dreams, of hopes, of visions. These can be used to describe different though perhaps related experiences. For example in Arabic the word ru’ya can be translated as “dream” or “vision.” When we speak of our highest hopes for the future, we often refer to them as “dreams.”
One of the most profound examples of such a dream or vision in our Vincentian tradition is the Lumière experience of Saint Louise de Marillac. During a time of great turmoil and doubt in her life and her soul, Louise was not only gifted with a calming certainty in her spirit but a vision of her future:
On the Feast of Pentecost, during holy Mass or while I was praying in the church, my mind was instantly freed of all doubt. I was advised that I should remain with my husband and that a time would come when I would be in a position to make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and that I would be in a small community where others would do the same. I then understood that I would be in a place where I could help my neighbor but I did not understand how this would be possible since there was to be much coming and going. I was also assured that I should remain at peace concerning my director; that God would give me one whom He seemed to show me. It was repugnant to me to accept him; nevertheless, I acquiesced. It seemed to me that I did not yet have to make this change.[ii]
This profound experience would serve as a comfort and guide to Louise for the rest of her life. Her description is taken from a piece of worn, many folded paper. She would apparently carry this around with her and take it out whenever she needed to be reminded, and on the back she had written the word lumière (French for light).
In the Muslim tradition, the following is narrated about the beginning of Prophet Muhammad’s[iii] prophetic experiences:
The beginning of the Revelation that came to the Messenger of Allaah was good dreams; he never saw a dream but it came true like bright daylight. Then seclusion was made dear to him, and he used to go to the cave of Hiraa’ and worship there, which means that he went and devoted himself to worship for a number of nights before coming back to his family to collect more provisions, then he would go back again. Then he would go back to Khadeejah to collect more provisions.[iv]
It was the regular practice of the Prophet to sit with his companions after the dawn prayers and ask them to share their dreams with him.[v] In a description brimming with many possible implications of meaning, the Prophet also was reported to have said, “The most truthful of dreams are seen shortly before dawn.”[vi]
In American cultural memory, one of the most powerful invocations of dreaming a vision for the future comes from what is known as the “I Have a Dream” speech of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although we know the speech by that title, the phrase did not appear in King’s prepared text.[vii] In fact, what has become the most famous portion of the speech was improvised by King in response to a call from gospel legend Mahalia Jackson to “tell them about the dream, Martin!” She was calling on King to bring to that enormous stage his inspiring vision of the beloved community toward which he wanted the nation to strive.
Pope Francis speaks of a powerful vision of fraternity and social friendship across all the borders that divide us in his Encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti:
Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation … We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together … By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together.[viii]
As we draw near to the end of today’s reflection and perhaps are feeling that painful anticipation of having to wake from a beautiful dream, let us close with a moving description of dreams and of peace and of comfort from Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead:
I went up to the church to watch the dawn come, because that peace does restore me better than sleep can do. It is as though there were a hoard of quiet in that room, as if any silence that ever entered that room stayed in it. I remember once as a child dreaming that my mother came into my bedroom and sat down in a chair in the corner and folded her hands in her lap and stayed there, very calm and still. It made me feel wonderfully safe, wonderfully happy. When I woke up, there she was, sitting in that chair. She smiled at me and said, “I was just enjoying the quiet.” I have that same feeling in the church, that I am dreaming what is true.[ix]
Questions for Reflection:
- As you hear these stories about other famous people and their dreams, what are the dreams or ideas that begin to emerge for you about your own life and what you feel drawn or called to explore?
- We may think of dreaming as something very solitary or focused on the individual. Is that the case in these examples? What are some of the ways in which dreaming can be communal as well as individual?
- From where do alternative visions of the future come? What do you need to be connected to in your own life or what practices do you engage in to nourish your dreams and visions and hopes? What do you think is the relationship between hopes and dreams and the creation of new realities?
Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, J.D., Assistant Dire
[i] Epigraph, attributed to “Old Play,” to W.B. Yeats, Responsibilities and Other Poems (London: Macmillan, 1916).
[ii] Document A.2, “Light,” Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, ed. and trans. Louise Sullivan, D.C. (New York: New City Press: 1991), 1.
[iii] Peace and blessings be upon him and upon all of the prophets of God.
[iv] Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith 3.
[v] Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith 7047.
[vi] Sunan al-Tirmidhi, hadith 2274.
[vii] Emily Crockett, “The Woman Who Inspired Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech,” Vox, updated January 16, 2017, https://www.vox.com/2016/1/18/10785882/martin-luther-king-dream-mahalia-jackson.
[ix] Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), 132–33.